5×5k — A tale of five Parkruns

Me taking a selfie before the start of Highbury Fields parkrun

I’ve been running on-and-off for about six years. But it was only a year ago that I took part in my first parkrun.

Since then, I have done five different parkruns in four different locations. My aim was always to run a sub-25 minute 5k. But it somehow always eluded me — until the fifth one.

Parkrun 1 — Portobello — 20 October 2018

I was encouraged to go to my first parkrun at Portobello, where it is held at Figgate Park. This is a narrow course with a burn running through it, and you must do three laps to complete the 5km distance.

It is — just about — the closest parkrun to where I live, but it’s still more than a 30 minute cycle away. I wasn’t sure how good I’d feel about running after cycling for 30 minutes.

316 people participated in my first Portobello parkrun. A feature of this particular parkrun is the inevitable bottleneck as hundreds of people try to funnel themselves through a narrow path.

This was my first time running in proximity with so many people, and I didn’t like it. I found myself working hard to try and find some space.

On the one hand, I didn’t like being stuck behind someone. On the other, I felt guilty about blocking the path if I moved out for some of what a racing driver would call “clean air”.

As a result, I probably went too fast at the start. Consequently I was very slow at the end.

I had hoped to run a sub-25 minute 5k. My final time was 25:34.

Parkrun 2 — Edinburgh (Cramond) — 2 November 2019

Over a year later, I decided to go to my second parkrun. But this time I tried the Edinburgh parkrun, which takes place at Cramond Promenade. It is also just over a 30 minute cycle away for me.

I actually set off a bit late, and I was worried about missing the start. I powered my way towards the start line, and in the end I had about five minutes in hand.

Cramond parkrun is wide and flat, making it a more comfortable experience than Portobello. So despite having 456 participants, this course doesn’t have as much of a bottleneck problem. It is a simple course, going out for about 2km, looping round Gipsy Brae Recreation Ground, and returning back the way you came.

Not wanting to make the same mistake as my first parkrun, I took things very steady at the start. I debated with myself about how soon I should start pushing. I decided to do so when I thought we’d reached the halfway point.

I was super fast during the second half of the run, powering past lots of people. But it wasn’t enough to make up for my steady start.

My final time was 25:48, slower than my Portobello time. But because of the strong end I felt better.

Parkrun 3 — Oriam — 9 November 2019

I discovered a brand new parkrun had been set up at the Oriam centre, at the Heriot-Watt University campus. Shockingly, this parkrun is also just over a 30 minute cycle away for me. How can it be that there are three parkruns in a relatively small city, and yet I live so far away from all of them?!

Unfortunately, my estimate of 30 minutes to cycle there appeared to be significantly wrong. It was a frosty morning, and it involved cycling along canal towpath. I’m not a great fan of cycling along the canal at the best of times, and because of the conditions I took it super easy.

I didn’t really keep an eye on the time though. The result was that I turned up late. In fact, by the time I found somewhere to lock my bike, 273 people whizzed past me.

I was annoyed with myself because I had cycled a long way through freezing cold conditions to get there. The only thing to do was to take part, and try to catch the field up.

The trouble was, I didn’t know the route. And by the time I sorted myself out, the field had long gone. So I set off, thinking/hoping the route would be easy to follow.

However, I took a wrong turn and ended up running around the edge of a playing field, which was clearly not the right place to be. After a while, I spotted some runners in the distance on a woodland path. The only trouble was, I had no idea how I would get there.

I turned back on myself a few times trying to find a way back to the course. I ended up climbing through a bog, then climbing over a wall to get there.

I had been running for well over a kilometre by the time I reached the walkers at the back of the field.

The volunteer keeping the walkers company encouraged me to continue: “Late starter? Well, you’re in it now!”

This course is quite narrow, muddy and hilly — much moreso than the other Edinburgh courses.

My final official time was 32:44. Although I’d missed the start, thanks to my detour I actually ran more than 5km, so I didn’t feel too bad about scanning my barcode at the end.

On Strava Flyby, you can see me getting lost big time. I showed it to Alex, and she said, “Ha ha ha — you look so stupid.”

Parkrun 4 — Portobello — 23 November 2019

We had a long day ahead doing DIY in the house (which I’ll probably write about in a future post). We needed to get some stuff from B&Q, so Alex drove me to Figgate Park and I did the parkrun while she did the shopping.

I wondered if the fact that I hadn’t been cycling for over 30 minutes to get there would change my performance.

Once again thinking about my previous bad experience at Portobello, I took more care to pace myself. I decided to go for it on lap 3. Thanks to the push at the end, I felt better about it than my first run. But my time — 25:45 — turned out to be slower. Oh well.

Parkrun 5 — Highbury Fields — 30 November 2019

Last weekend we were in London, and I decided to go to the nearest parkrun to where we were staying.

I had somehow neglected to pack my running jacket. This was problematic because the morning was freezing cold and misty. So I set off to Highbury Fields wearing just my t-shirt (and running bottoms, by the way).

I arrived at the park with plenty of time to spare, and found it confusing because there was no-one where the start was meant to be. After walking round the park, I found a small group of people congregating at the other end.

After a while, a volunteer gathered the first-timers around to give the introductory information. But not before walking us all back round to the start, which took a few minutes!

Selfie in the mist before the start of Highbury Fields parkrun

Arriving early, it seemed like not many people were going to participate. But soon enough I found myself in the middle of a throng containing 344 people.

The route is quite short, requiring you to do five-and-a-bit laps. It’s actually a bit tricky to keep count. The park is on a hill, which means roughly half of each lap involves going uphill, and the other half downhill.

It has a few obstacles. The downhill section seemed mossy and potentially slippery. There were puddles, bollards and trees to negotiate, and the route varies greatly in width throughout the lap.

The cold weather was very tough. Almost immediately I stopped being able to feel my hands.

However, I also felt myself running quite quickly at points. But I had no idea just how fast I was running. When I stopped Strava, I couldn’t believe my time. I set my personal best 5k (bettering my MoRun from last November), and my personal best 2 miles.

My official time was 23:53, and according to Strava my pace was 4:30 per kilometre.

Even more amazingly, the last couple of laps were my fastest — at 4:16 per kilometre.

I was delighted to finally achieve a sub-25 minute parkrun. Sub-25 was always my goal with parkrun — I thought ought to be perfectly doable given than I often used to regularly do 6k in about 30 minutes. But until now it had eluded me. Then I smashed it — my first sub-25 was also a sub-24.

It was all the more confusing given that earlier in the week I had a run that was so bad and painful I had to give up. I seem to remember something similar happening before my fast MoRun as well.

What made me so fast? Perhaps I need it to be cold. Or perhaps I’m good at going downhill.

So there you have it. A tale of five parkruns, in four different locations, with an unlikely positive ending.

6 comments

  1. Congratulations on beating your target in 5 k! I’m hoping to get back into running training in 4-6 weeks, following a non-running-related injury. Sadly, my nearest Parkrun is 5 miles away and is about an hour away (I have nowhere to put a cycle, so would have to walk 1 1/4 miles to catch a bus), so I’ll have to make other arrangements.

  2. I aim to do a variety of distances, my main criterion being that most of my races are within one hour’s travel without recourse to a car. Luckily, public transport is in range of a nice variety of annual events, going from one-milers in stadiums/parks to a choice of four different half-marathons. However, the majority of them seem to be 10 km instead of the usual 5 km. The one routine exception I make is for the Silverstone 10 km, because I like the organisers, they’re used to my disability, it’s a friendly atmosphere and the motorsport atmosphere always gets me in the right mood.

    Last year, I did three 10 km races, a 5 km race and a half-marathon (all within 3 miles of my house except the Silverstone one) in what was basically a half-season. In addition to missing two months at the end due to injury, there was a two-month gap in the middle because of heavy training for the Corporate Games karting competition (I came 5th in class, even though “heavy training” for me turned out to be almost the least training of anyone there :D).

    It has to be said that I am a slow runner – people were getting excited because despite 2019 being my 4th year of running, it was the first time I was not-last more often than I was last. My 5 km personal best is 44:30, so if we got to Silverstone, you’d probably lap me…

    In theory, there’s a 5 km every month a mile from my house that’s not affiliated with Parkrun (and charges £3 a time). In practise, I fell out with the organisers because they tended to take the marshals off the course before I’d finished. This also happened to me on one half-marathon I tried two years ago – unsurprisingly given my poor navigation skills, I got lost and eventually had to be picked up by a search car. Being at the back of the field can have disadvantages.

    I joke that every year, I want to try the Sheffield half-marathon, and every year, I find a different reason not to do it (so far, I’ve had “not yet fast enough”, “skint at the wrong moment”, “clashed with a 5 km race I signed up for before the half-marathon dates were announced”, “forgot to check the ticket release dates before they sold out” and now “recovering from injury”). I hope to finally get to do it in April 2021.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s an impressive set of distances. Hopefully I’ll be up to doing half marathons soon. It’s a great shame some of those events have not been able to accommodate you. That’s one of the things I really love about parkrun — the fact that it is so inclusive.

  4. You’re already better-preparaed for 10 km than I ever have been. However, I think it is wise to get a few successful experiences under one’s belt at 10 km before committing to a half-marathon (and, if possible, to make your first half-marathon one with a relatively small field – as a general rule, any event that doesn’t bother announcing a field limit on application is a small one for this purpose. Special arrangments have to be made for ambulance cover over 2000 people, and that requires specifying a limit).

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